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EPISODE 106 : 03/23/2023

Simon Severino

Simon Severino is an expert at scaling startup businesses and accelerating sales for companies large and small. He’s the author of the book Strategy Sprints, and he created the Strategy Sprints™ Method that helps entrepreneurs double revenue in 90 days. His team is trusted by Google, Consilience Ventures, BMW, Roche, Amgen, AbbVie and hundreds of frontier teams. He is a TEDx speaker, and has appeared on over 800 podcasts. He writes for Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine, and we’re excited to have him on the podcast today.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Simon Severino

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:00] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by SnowShoe, Your smarter loyalty leader.

Ned Hayes [00:00:10] Spark Plug welcomes Simon Severino to the podcast today. Simon is an expert at scaling startup businesses and accelerating sales for companies large and small. He’s the author of the book Strategy Sprints, and he created the Strategy Sprints method that helps entrepreneurs to double their revenue in 90 days. His team has been trusted by Google, Consilience Ventures, BMW, Amgen and hundreds of new and smaller teams to his Intelex speaker. He has appeared on many, many podcasts. He writes for Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine, and we’re really excited to have Simon on the podcast today. So welcome Simon. 

Simon Severino [00:00:46] Hey, everybody. Thank you for having me. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:49] Thank you so much for being here. Well, Simon, you have a fascinating history helping startups to change their business in very positive directions. So before we get into your concept of strategy sprints, we’d love to hear how you got started. 

Simon Severino [00:01:02] Yeah. So I was utterly unemployable from the beginning and I had to do my own thing. Like most entrepreneurs, I had no other choice. And my way has been consulting. I’m I had the chance to start with a global advisory group strategy advisory. And then I went from junior consultant, senior consultant, junior project managers, senior project manager all the way there. And then I jumped into my own little consultancy and I ran. Now this Agency Strategy Sprints, which is a consultancy that helps other agencies, marketing agencies, UX agencies, creative agencies, web agencies. Because we are agency owners, we have some tough situations out there in the markets, even under the best weather conditions. You have time pressure, you have price pressure, you have long sales times if you want to sell a big ticket item. And so my way has been the consulting where I’m an agency guy, a B2B guy. That’s what I’ve been doing the last 21 years, and I love the creativity of it, having a tool to solve big problems that are thrown at me every day. And I take them with grace and I say, All right, what do we solve today? 

Ned Hayes [00:02:25] Well, that sounds really fascinating. Sounds like some really interesting work that you’ve been able to do with a number of different clients. And when you start working with the client, could you tell us what some of the common goals are? Do you do business? We care about scaling or entrepreneurship. What kind of questions are you encountering? 

Simon Severino [00:02:42] Simon How can I shorten the sales time? Because you months. It takes me six months, eight months, nine months. SIMON I’m getting goals that I thought I closed this deal and then 5 minutes before they just delay or oops, and now they don’t even answer me. SIMON How can I generate more leads? SIMON I think I’m the bottleneck because the whole business is dependent on me. I can’t go on vacation. You seem to be able to go on long vacations. How the hell do you do it? Can I learn this? 

Ashley Coates [00:03:12] Yeah. All very good questions. Also, I would love to get into your groundbreaking work of strategy sprints B of a book on the concept and set of trademarked coaching classes, the TED Talk. Will you tell our audience about this concept? 

Simon Severino [00:03:27] You had a strategist. Prince My thought was myself answering for for my own team. But how do we run a digital agency under those tough conditions? Uncertainty. You don’t know the markets. Technology is changing quickly. So many unknowns. How do you decide what? How do you decide instead of deciding wrong? Basically, how can you take the right decisions but quickly? Because usually when you decide quickly, you don’t have enough data and so it’s usually bad decisions. But if you decide to late as a small business, as an agency, you are just out of business. So you have to decide quickly, but you don’t have enough information. How do you decide? How do you decide? You know, marketing decisions, sales decisions, operations decisions, hiring decisions, which software to use or super relevant decisions. And I had no method for that. So I was like, how am I actually steering this waters? And my clients have the same questions. So that was cool. I could learn with them and develop for them. And at the same time I was learning and developing also our own tools. So that’s, that’s a cool thing when you eat your own dogfood, right? You are always cooking dishes for other people to eat, but you eat them also. So we were learning, learning, learning. And in the end we said, Hey, this can help every B2B team out there. Every agency, marketing agency. Consulting agency. Web agency. Creative agency. Design agency. As to solve these problems, the sale problem, the marketing problem, and the operations problem. Having a good product. Not reinventing the wheel all the time. Having enough margin time margin, but also a profit margin to not be under under stress all the time so that you can be creative. Those were the problems that needed the cookbook and I had all the recipes, so I said, okay, let’s write the cookbook. It became the strategies prints book. It’s now out on Amazon. It’s getting translated in Chinese. In 18 months, it will be out there in Chinese because it takes it takes China so long to read it and approve it. They like to approve things. And this is how it became the method. And myself as the founder of the agency, I was the bottleneck. Because you know what? If we take five times more clients, which parts breaks first? Why? Because Simon is the delivery, right? You have to remove Simon from the middle of this. I hired the business coach. They tell me, Simon, you have to fire yourself from operations. So what? Firing myself from my own company as a. Yeah. You need to lead this thing, Simon. You cannot be the delivery anymore. You are right. But how do I do it? And is that. I’m not totally sure, but let’s start. Right. Let’s start. First, you have to write down how you do stuff. We have to write down the processes. What do you do in week zero, Week one, Week two. So we started writing it down, then handing it over, then hiring. Then the hiring part was super complicated. It wasn’t working. And so I created a better method actually landing the app. We created the franchise. Now I have a certification program where I teach for 60 days people how to do it, and then they run the operations. And so I was out of operations, but I had enough quality control and I had the right people and I had a very agile system, very scalable. 

Ned Hayes [00:07:03] Great. So the system sounds like you’ve had it in market for a while. I’m just curious, could you explain more about how it helps a business to double sales in just a few sprints? It just seems surprising to me that you’d be able to move so quickly. 

Simon Severino [00:07:17] Oh, that’s how quickly it took me years. And this is how you get out of operations, right? That’s takes years because you have to first write down the processes and then you have to hand them over and then so it will take you probably one, two years, sometimes even more. With a sprint coach, it can be faster because they share the blueprints with you, but it takes a couple of years to get out of operations. The other question that you asked, how can people double sales? That is easier. That is quick to double sales. You just have to improve three things by 25%. You increase the frequency of your sales by reducing sales time or increasing the repayment rate or having up sales process. So this is how you increase frequency over sales by 25%. You have just more clients, 25% more clients. Then the other part is improving the pricing. If we improve your positioning, then you can charge 25% more for the same offer that you are offering right now. But it’s better positioned, It’s de-risked from the buyer’s side. And if you can reduce the risk for the buyer, then you can charge 25% more without losing relevant new buyers. And then the third part that we have to increase by 25% is the conversion rate. So same amount of conversations that you have per week, but you will close 25% more because most people had never a proper training in how to close in objection handling and moving forward in the sales flow, all the techniques and we have 15 things that we teach. So we get the recordings of our clients of their sales call and then we say, All right, look how you opened it. Look how you said the price, look how you didn’t close. And that’s why they goes to And so we show them exactly try this the next time instead of saying, okay, you want to think about it, okay, think about it. Instead of doing that, try scheduling a next meeting and in preparation, try doing this. And here is the template, by the way. So these are the three things if you want to double revenue, it’s not even that increase by 25%. The frequency, the price and the conversion rate. And for each of them we can go deeper. There are very practical things to do. I described them in the book, but we can also go there right now. 

Ned Hayes [00:09:45] Well, can you tell us briefly about one or two businesses who have really benefited from this concept and what kind of difference it’s made to their bottom line? 

Simon Severino [00:09:54] Sure. So on our website, I think we have 160 clients describing the journey that I. Today’s journey. One of them is Sonny Sonny Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles. He runs Investec, USA, and they are a consulting agency. They have all the blockchain, the cool Web three teams they call Sunny, especially if they are in California. They say, Oh, I need developers. I need to add it to build something faster, better. Do you have the right people? Do you have the right processes? So his problem was like most professional services or consulting agencies. His main problem was that his profit margin was low and he was offering too many things. So the way he felt, it was like, Oh my God, we’re working so much, but where is the profits? So what we did in in month one, we always helped him free up 10 to 14 hours of their time by better organizing. And so we pulled him out of the weeds. Month two, we improved. Now we had time 10 to 14 hours per week to work on improving sales. And so in sales we simplified the offer. We just picked one of the offers and we totally improved it week by week. Every seven days we measured the progress. One marketing, number one says number one ops number. So every week we knew if our activities are working or if we have to course correct ADAPT activities. That was the real time dashboard in this print. And so in months tour, we improved sales in month three assigning rights, says Michael Simon. Sales went through the roof and then we knew. All right. Sales. Sales check. And then we went to marketing, which is he picked one marketing channel. He picked LinkedIn, and then we created a strategy with him how he can be present there and basically just scale. Now, what was not working, because one very important thing, most people listening right now, they are wasting money in marketing and they are wasting time in marketing. Please don’t be on social media at all before you have $35,000 coming in every month. With ease and grace. So without calling strangers and you have 35 K coming in every month and you have a repeatable sales flow that you can hand over to anybody, you can teach it, you can repeat it, and you are very confident that it works. Then we usually do this in month three. Then it’s the first time where you put money or time into marketing because marketing is basically scaling something that already works. So you need a working product and or service and a working repeatable sales system. When you have those two pieces, then you go and scale the baby. 

Ashley Coates [00:13:01] Really fascinating, Simon. Thank you. I also want to ask you about so Agile is a methodology used in software development, and they also used the term sprints in that. So I’m curious if you were inspired by the Agile and Scrum methods used in software development, And if so, do you have any thoughts about how agile and sprints have changed the world of software development? 

Simon Severino [00:13:22] Yes, our inspiration was being in the tech world. We saw that on the product level. There are wonderful tools to concentrate on what really matters and to make work small and repeatable. So we were like, Why don’t we have such tools on an executive level where we need them to run a company? Because when you are an agency owner, you need to take decisions on sales, on marketing, on hiring all the time, on product, and where are the cool tools, where are the cool tools for this? And so we said it must be possible to use them here. And so we tweaked them. We started using them for those and we had to refine some things. But in the end, yes, we have brought Agile tool to the executive level to how to run a company because you have to take so many decisions and so you have to be super focused and really make sure that you are looking at the few important things. And so Agile always says, okay, but what does the client really need right now? And everything else is in the backlog. It’s all about user stories. Pull one completed, then you pull the next. So I was like, How can we run a company this way? You always think about, okay, but what does the client really need right now? How can we focus on that, make it amazing and then repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. This is how we came with the method strategy sprints method and the sprint is. 12 weeks is 12 sprints of seven days each. And that’s why we have a weekly dashboard. And every seven days we measure the one marketing number, the one sales number, and the one operations number that our clients pick from a list of possible metrics that tells them if they’re wrong, if they’re doing the right thing in the right pace for them, because that’s velocity velocity. It’s not just speed. Some teams are very fast and they move in the wrong direction. So that’s actually the worst case you can do. So best case is you are moving in the right direction at the right pace. So before you speed up, you have to make sure that you are moving in the right direction. And that’s and you don’t want to wait a month for that. That’s why we have the weekly dashboard every seven days. Hey, is this moving into regulation? Okay, okay, now we can speed up. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:52] Well, it sounds like you’ve done an enormous amount of work around kind of codifying this and getting it into a structure. And I’m also intrigued by the fact that you wrote a book. I think it’s behind you on the video. Your strategy sprints. So how did the book come about? And as an author myself, I’d love to know more about your writing process. 

Simon Severino [00:16:08] Yes. So the pandemic was here. I had time to write. I wasn’t in plane all the times. And when I did it, I sat down and I finally wrote 21 years of solving the marketing problem, the sales problem, the operations problem. I just wrote it out of my head and said, All right, this is how we do it. This is what I experience as working processes. And so it’s a cookbook. I literally I have it here on my desk. If my marketing doesn’t work, I open chapter two, marketing chapter, and I say, All right, which steps did I skip again? Because I always think I can skip some steps. Probably not the only person in the world, but I do this or I can skip this one. I’m smarter than this process. And so I do it. And wherever I do it, if it’s yoga or if it’s marketing or if it’s sales, it usually never works. So I have to go back to basics and do the right order of things and not step and not skipping steps. And so that’s my cookbook because it’s a very practical book. You open a chapter to this is how you do marketing, Did you do this, then this, then this, then this, then this. Chapter three. This is how you do this. Chapter 12. This is how you do hiring. So it’s literally my cookbook and and, you know, cookbooks are fun. You can open them wherever you want. You jump directly in. It’s super practical, and you say, Oh my God, it saved me time. So I like to kind of books, idea books and cookbooks. I cannot write an idea because I’m not a writer. I’m a practical guy, I’m a business business guy. So I’m not the right guy to write an idea book. But the cookbook, yeah, I had it in my head. I just had to write it. And so I teamed up with a publisher and editor and the graphic designer, and we made this labor of love, and it’s out there on Amazon now. 

Ashley Coates [00:18:05] Strategist Principle Well, so in the book you also include a concept that you call Arrow L return on luck rather than ROI. So why do you use this phrase instead of return on investment? What is luck and how do we turn it into an investment? 

Simon Severino [00:18:20] It’s funny because the question was asked by Jim Collins, How can he was researching? How can it be possible that everybody is giving their best? But some teams, they get lucky and other times they don’t. This is specifically relevant right now in a stagflation recession kind of environment for most listeners where many of us will not be around. So the question is who will be hit by the luck bus? And so and the answer is pretty straightforward. The people who put themselves in the middle of the road, they have the chance to get hit. So if you stand on the sidelines, you will never get hit by a bus. And what is this? In the practical day of the team today, I get an email seminar. We have to delay starting a sprint. We are not ready yet. We have to define first who the ideal customer is. That’s a typical situation. That’s overthinking, because how do you start? You start by starting. You don’t start by thinking about things. How do you find out who is the ideal customer? You solve ten problems and then you know which one was most was most fun to solve. But you never start by thinking about it and having a meeting and talking about what you’re thinking. 100% probability This team will not get hit by the luck bus. According to Jim Collins, it’s the people who stand in the arena. They start by starting their run multiple small experiments per week. So they cover more ground. They learn more. And with with those information, they come back, take better decisions, refine stuff. So there are teams who think about stuff, and there are teams who learn by doing, repeating, learning, doing, learning, repeating. 

Ashley Coates [00:20:18] Yeah, that’s fascinating. Well, so, Simon, you’ve worked with a variety of world class clients, but just to pick one. You worked with Google in Germany and you’ve hosted Google Future workshops and worked with teams there to improve their delivery cadence. So what can you share with us about working with Google? 

Simon Severino [00:20:35] We are on a stage with them in two weeks and they are helping right now. Female entrepreneurs, especially who run agencies, are solving the biggest problems. One of the biggest problem is how do you run a company and a life? Because when you build a company, sometimes it’s so all consuming, right? And all your competitors, they’re also not sleeping. They are like, if you relax too much, they they eat your lunch. So how can you be fully present in in both business on the market, but also in life is one problem. And the second problem is sales and sales automations. So what we are developing with Google is a set of tools for agency owners how they can automate 85% of their sales. So what is the boring part in sales? What are the parts that can be done by a software? For example, most people are doing sales. They know it, but some people don’t know that 40% of sales is actually sales at the main tasks. So if you look at a day of a sales person, they are not doing sales 100% of the time. 40% they are doing admin tasks like, Oh, what’s the LinkedIn you are? I love that lead or let me check LinkedIn slash copy paste in your CRM, right, for example. So that’s not a sales activity that a human being should be doing. This is just admin. Admin should be done by software for you should be automated. And if we go through a full day of a sales person, which we regularly do because we coach 12 of them per day, so we identify those 40% time suckers that just need to be automated. And so the partnership right now with Google is let’s help those agencies automate 85% of the boring stuff that no human should be doing so that they can concentrate on the 15% that that actually a human should be doing. The creative part, the relationship part. Listening well, going deeper, having more openness, more transparency, daring to be you. That’s the human part. Everything else we can give to software and meanwhile to software plus A.I.. 

Ned Hayes [00:22:57] Right then software plus A.I. is really kind of a future trend right now. I’m going to kind of go off script because I’m curious if you can share with us some of your perspective on the emergence of AI as kind of a world changing paradigm for all sorts of industries, especially startup industries? 

Simon Severino [00:23:15] Oh, I love it. Both in my Mastermind and in the Sprint University, I have shared the best AI prompts the teams can use to cut in half the work they do per week and have the same same impact. There are wonderful prompts and every day my team and I, we are testing all kinds of prompts because, you know, we have time for this. We are not in the weeds anymore. We are well-organized. The business runs in different countries. I have time to test all those things. And so I am testing all those prompts that you give to any AI because it’s all becoming good at prompting. So for example, today I shared in our Mastermind, I shared a prompt after I’ve tested 18 that lets chat Jupyter write down your business processes. That’s the most boring part. And everybody goes, Yeah, I know I should write down the processes, but not this week or let me do it next quarter and we’d never do it. So and I understand it because it’s boring, so somebody else should do it. And so I showed them how they can just record a screencast. They just do the task once while being recorded by a screencast and then they give that to chat, jpt it, transcribe it, summarize it, and it creates an AI so that everybody can read and understand. It takes less than 5 minutes and they have a written process. And when you have a written process, you know everything changes because now everybody can do that task. So you can hand it over. If you do one task per day and you hand it over in 3 to 6 months, your business is 85. Percent running and you can enjoy the 15%, which are actually fun and creative and human and messy and emotional and worth experiencing. 

Ashley Coates [00:25:12] Well, as we start to wrap up, Simon, we definitely want to ask you about customer loyalty. That’s a topic that our listeners really care about. So can you share with us what tools and concepts are important for retail businesses to keep in mind, especially when it comes to driving repeat business and creating true customer loyalty with their brand? 

Simon Severino [00:25:34] We are so obsessed with this topic because the best thing is to have wow moments in the very beginning, in the first day with you. And so we usually map out what happens in the first day, in the first hour, when you onboarded a new client. And how can you make that a wow experience? Because if you start doing that and I can give you some examples, if you start doing that really well now, you can create some peak moments in the next weeks, in the next months, and around those peak moments that we call activation points. Then we create feedback loops like congrats, and they go, Oh wow. Yeah, it’s true. And if you ask them in this moment, by the way, who else needs this? They will refer you to people. So we have to map out the customer experience, create three or four activation points during those activation points, automating an email that goes out there and says, Oh, wow, congrats, you’ve just unlocked this. And then who else needs this? And you can create a referral engine. So that’s an amazing sales tool to build into your system, which is just do great work. And at the right time you ask who else needs this? And they will just introduce you to people if they really like it. And if they think that they’re helping those people, they will not do it for you. They will do it because they think it’s helpful for others because they have just experienced that it’s helpful for them. So that’s one way of keeping clients around. And and it’s also a way of, you know, tripling clients from the current clients. That’s why we we love mapping out the activation points and and we we scribble on Post-its with our clients until we find the perfect flow. And then we go into, you know, the CRM system and the tagging system, etc., to make it happen on autopilot and to make that happen repeatedly. One great example of this is KGB. KGB, which I use as my website sends me a badge 10-K. You have just. Unlocked ten K of sales. Congrats then 50 K and then a month later hundred K. That’s a very simple. Example of a great system to keep people happy because, you know, I’m just yeah, I just got my 100 badge, if you ask me two weeks before that badge. Hey, would you recommend a job as a. Yeah, maybe use it, I guess. But if you ask me one day after I got a 100 K badge. Oh, my God. Yeah, They are amazing. They’re the best. You have to go there now. Three weeks later, maybe I’ve forgotten it. So it’s all about timing. It’s about, you know, activation points. So help them be successful, raise their status, and then help them see their status, help them see what they are capable of. If you just do these three things can be an email. It can be a letter that you write with your hands can be something that you send, can be a gamified version. You have just unlocked level seven, whatever it is. But if you care enough to think about this, they will feel it and they will feel elevated. And in that moment of elevation, this is where you can do either, you know, an extension of the work or going deeper in working together or adding services. 

Ned Hayes [00:29:17] Got it. Okay. Well, it sounds like you’ve almost thought of everything here. And I’m curious if you have ideas about what what particular tools need to be used by retailers or by other businesses as we move into this kind of post-pandemic era. What should people be looking at to use? 

Simon Severino [00:29:33] I am tool agnostic, so every couple of years I change my tools. Having said that, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t be able to run anything without tools. So there are 274 tools that I use. They are in this print university and in the book, and then there is software that I use, and that’s software. As long as that software talks to each other, then you know, you can use any software they have be capable of talking to each other. So you need a software for delivery, software for sales, software for CRM and software to communicate with your team and software to communicate with the outside. I guess with this you can run very, very far and then you need one more piece of software and that tells the other software. When this software does that, then do this. And that can be make I’ll which is a former former integral model by Google for example or Zapier or HFT. But make IO is probably the most reliable and the cheapest solution right now to tell all other software what to do. And then one communication software can be slack, can be discord, one contact management system. There are many very good ones. The only important thing is they talk to each other and I wouldn’t survive without a CRM. So I want one place where I see the whole pipeline and every day I go through the pipeline and say, Alright, who do I need to curate the relationship to here? Who do I need to talk to? Who was waiting for some response? Who can I help introduce to somebody that they need an introduction to and that I personally have in Pipedrive? But also many people, many of our clients use HubSpot or Salesforce, and that’s fine also. So be tool agnostic, be ready to change tools and software every couple of years, but make sure that they talk to each other because you have to tag them and you have to let them work together. So whenever somebody is on the website and downloads eight things, you want it to tell your communication system. This person just downloaded the eight tool in a day. Call them, Here’s the number and that goes to your team. 

Ashley Coates [00:31:44] That’s really great advice. SIMON Thank you. Well, so we have one last question for you, which is what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for? 

Simon Severino [00:31:53] You know, I have three kids, so every day they are a miracle. They tell me, Papa, did your really eat clean today? 

Simon Severino [00:32:02] Really? That’s the most healthy thing you can eat today. 

Simon Severino [00:32:06] Then I move on. But. But did you really go running today or what? Are you just listening to all of your books today? They are a mirror. Every second I have the chance to receive feedback. And so my legacy is just being in every moment and taking a decision that either empowers me and empowers others, like do I eat the banana or do I eat, you know, the chocolate cookie? Do I watch Ray Dalio talk about investing on YouTube or do I watch, I don’t know, a comedy show on YouTube. So in every moment I can take decisions that either empower me and empower others or disempower me, and these empower others. This is how I think about legacy. It’s. Every moment. It’s right now, right here. And it’s about the way they say it this way or that way. 

Ashley Coates [00:33:04] That’s fantastic. Simon, thank you so much. And yes, kids are definitely a mirror for your reflection. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This has just been such a wonderful conversation and we’re so glad to to share all your thoughts and expertise with our listeners. 

Simon Severino [00:33:19] Thank you. It was fun. And if people want to grab some of the tools that we have described, they can pick them up at strategies prints dot com there for free. 

Ned Hayes [00:33:28] Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe. Copyright 2022-2023 Spark Plug Media.